Forget health farms, sushi bars and the Atkins diet. The healthiest place to eat may well be a North Sea oil rig.
An Oxford University study funded by the Health and Safety Executive shows that although the population in general is becoming increasingly obese, offshore oil workers are getting fitter. A new diet and lifestyle - implemented in the aftermath of 1980s research which showed riggers living dangerously unhealthy lives - promises to be a blueprint for office and construction workers up and down the country.
Where once it was chips with everything, with more oil on the food than under the rig, no longer. Today's menus include Waldorf salad, poached salmon, braised rice, seared tuna steak, and blue cheese and broccoli strudel.
New research shows that largely as a result of the changes, the obesity epidemic that has swept the country over the last two decades has passed the rigs by. The arrival of healthy diets, nutrition advice and exercise has seen half the men lose weight.
It comes two decades after a survey found that the workers were considerably more overweight than the male population ashore, with a much higher body mass index (BMI). At the time, diet took the brunt of the blame, largely because the rigs work 24 hours a day and meals and snacks are available around the clock. So much unhealthy food was eaten that concerns were raised about safety implications. Working on a rig could well be hazardous for obese people faced with narrow walkways and steep stairs or escape from small emergency exits.
So nutritionists and other experts were brought in. Now, research funded by the HSE offshore safety division shows there have indeed been big changes. "North Sea personnel do not appear to reflect current population trends towards increased BMI levels," said Dr Katharine Parkes of Oxford's experimental psychology department who led the study, reported in the journal Occupational Medicine. "This result accords with the emphasis now given to health promotion, particularly dietary change, on offshore installations."
"The target of more than 25 per cent of those with excess weight reducing weight was exceeded twofold with a level of 50 per cent achieved,'' the report says. Dietary changes were matched by a lifestyle programme which identified smoking, weight and alcohol intake as particular health-related targets - though rigs are dry, hence the importance of food in the absence of other distractions.
As a sign of how far things have come, offshore menus this week feature Cajun bean soup, potted shrimps, feta and olive salad, risotto, grilled cod and Korean-style pork stir-fry. Two decades ago, it was chips with everything; much more red meat; burgers and pies; crisps and chocolate; and not a rocket leaf in sight.
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